One of the driving principles behind Start Teaching Guitar is that we can all learn from each other. This “Guitar Teacher Interview” series is a chance for us to hear from other guitar teachers around the world and hopefully get some ideas for our own teaching businesses.
This interview is with Joe Walker from Seattle, Washington, USA. Joe has a background in both music and technology, and it shows in his website and in his approach to teaching guitar lessons…I think you’ll learn a lot from what he has to say. To find out more about Joe and his teaching business, visit his website at DeftDigits.com.
Guitar Teacher Interview
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What’s your background?
I grew up near Seattle, WA and spent the last 10 years in Southern California, earning a Bachelor’s in computer science and a Master of Music in jazz guitar along the way. I’ve been writing the guitar blog From the Woodshed for the last four years. A few months ago, I returned to Seattle and started my teaching business, Deft Digits Guitar Lessons.
Tell us about your guitar teaching business. Are you doing it part-time or full-time? How many students are you currently teaching?
I started teaching guitar 10 years ago, during the summers between my high school and college years. I taught part-time off and on in the following years, taking on more students while I was in music school in San Diego just recently. I’m now devoted full-time to building my teaching business since moving back to Seattle in June.
I currently have 10 students enrolled, divided between in-person and long-distance Skype lessons. Most of my students are beginner and intermediate players, teenagers and adults. I’ve limited my students to age 10 and up in the past, because young kids require a totally different approach to teaching, but I look forward to taking on all ages in the near future. I haven’t offered group lessons yet, but I have plans to do some weekend afternoon seminars after I’ve built up my student base.
What’s been the biggest key to success in your teaching business so far?
My biggest key to success has been individual attention to students. Every single student learns differently and has different musical tastes and goals. I try to get inside each student’s head and figure out the best plan of attack for explaining a concept or mastering a technique. In addition, I encourage my students to direct their own learning. I always have a detailed lesson plan ready when they come in, but I ask them to choose which songs to learn and ask questions during the lesson, keeping the topics we cover closer to their interests.
What’s been your most effective way of attracting new students?
I put a lot of work into my website, writing blog posts, optimizing for search results, and posting frequently to Craigslist and other free online listings. But unexpectedly, my most effective means of attracting students has been through flyers. Specifically, local flyers. I checked out the Seattle Municipal Code and found that it’s legal to post flyers on utility poles along the streets, so I’ve been advertising in that manner all over my section of the city. I’ve tried a few different flyers and found that those highlighting the fact that I teach locally far outperform the rest. Consequently, most of my students live within walking distance of my in-home teaching studio.
While flyers have been great for garnering my first few students without any reputation or network to speak of in my new city, I don’t expect it to be my go-to tactic in the long run. The Internet is a powerful thing, and it will only become more so. I’m directing most of my long-term efforts at building my business’s Internet presence, keeping an eye on emerging platforms and technologies.
What’s been your most effective way of keeping your existing students from quitting?
I apply some pressure, in a good way. How much pressure depends on the student, but I create specific homework assignments and hold my students accountable for completing them. That’s not to say I’m a disciplinarian; most students will perform better when they know someone is relying on them to progress. Most importantly, I make my students happy and proud every time they improve, either during or in between lessons.
What helps to keep you motivated to continue when things don’t seem to be going as well as you would like?
I exercise. A run or bike ride, when I can force myself to do it, does wonders for putting my mind back to work. WorkFlowy is an excellent tool for keeping on task as well.
What advice would you have for someone who would like to get started teaching guitar lessons for the first time?
Take lessons for yourself if you’re not already enrolled with a teacher. Explore different teachers’ tactics if you can. Offer a free lesson to friends and family so you can get a feel for the teaching process. (When I moved to Seattle, I offered a free Skype lesson to my former students in San Diego so that I could get comfortable with the medium before marketing myself as a Skype guitar teacher.) Once you’ve given a few lessons, ask yourself if you really love doing this. I surprised myself teaching my first few lessons; it was so much more fun than I was expecting. Don’t worry about whether you’re good enough to teach. If you love it, nothing can stop you from becoming a great teacher.
Can you share one tip that has worked for you to help your students get better results on the guitar?
I use Amazing Slow Downer (its competitor is Transcribe!) for changing the speed and pitch of recordings, and I see immediate improvement in my students’ playing every time I bring it out. Instead of letting them play out of time or struggle with a metronome, I can isolate, slow down, and loop whatever passage they’re working on, and they get it so much faster. I can also email them an mp3 of the slowed down loop for practice in between lessons.
Well, that’s it for today’s Guitar Teacher Interview. If you’d like to be considered for a future interview, enter your name and email address below to join the Start Teaching Guitar community. I send out occasional interview requests to this mailing list.
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